Yahoos and Lilliputians: A Review of Gulliver’s Travels

By March 20, 2009 culture, language No Comments

A quick skim of my Bookshelf here at Filling My Patch of Sky will reveal my preference for nonfiction works. Of the 42 books listed, only 9 are fiction—just 21 percent of my selections.

As is likely for most people, my first 10 years or so of (elective) reading was fiction. I remember my tween years spent devouring the Sweet Valley High series, thinking that was the best entertainment ever. . . . until one of my aunts borrowed a SVH for a light, quick read during a visit. Her oration of one especially dramatic scene sent us all into fits of laughter. After that, I never read those books with the same simple enjoyment. [sigh.]

Once I discovered the world of non-textbook, creative, entertaining nonfiction, I was hooked. Fiction grew less and less appealing; now I only read fiction if it is recommended. (My fellow readers serve as my fiction filter.)

Several years ago, I decided to embark on my own classic literature adventure as a way to keep one toe in the Land of Make Believe. My selection for February was Gulliver’s Travels, by Jonathon Swift. I knew little of this tale except a vague memory that it was put to film some years ago. (I didn’t see it, but I remember the previews showing Ted Danson as Gulliver.)

Swift’s creativity of lands and people and customs and language was enjoyable. I now know that the words yahoo and Lilliputian are due to Swift. I found myself continually annoyed, however, that Swift’s descriptions were abruptly shut down with some sort of claim from Gulliver that he didn’t want to bore the reader with the details. What?! Boredom wasn’t the problem for me—it was the choppy waters.

Halfway through the book, I began to wonder why such writing would be considered classic. I turned to the preliminary pages and found my answer: This version had been edited for young readers. (No clue how I missed that.) After getting to the middle the story, however, I was not interested in starting over with the full-length version. I decided to finish the youth edition and say goodbye to Gulliver.

Perhaps the original edition is extremely captivating; I won’t ever know firsthand. I admit, the book was not a favorite; but it is possible that much of the original luster was lost in the editing. Maybe all you Gulliver fans can tell me the wonders of the original that I missed.

In addition to meeting my personal classic lit challenge, reading Gulliver’s Travels also officially completes my participation in the Well-Seasoned Reader challenge. (Thanks for hosting, Book Nut!)

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